Monday, August 30, 2004

Mississippi learning: enforcing the law in the Magnolia State

Back in the day, The Monk worked for a law firm that defended asbestos-related injury cases. Asbestos is a mineral that was used in fireproofing and the damage it cause to unprotected miners who dug it out of the ground in Quebec and Australia and the US was tremendous. It was included, in varying amounts, in numerous fireproofing products including bricks, wallboards, sprays and more. In its neutralized form, it's harmless -- that is, when contained within bricks or wallboards it won't hurt you. When you break a brick or tear out wallboard, asbestos particles are freed up and can go into your lungs where they are akin to small needles cutting through the lung tissue.

Asbestos has not been used in construction in the US for more than two decades. And whereas the initial asbestos injury claimants had injuries that ranged from bad to deadly, more than 90% of the current plaintiffs are healthy. Yes, there are many sick claimants, most notably those who have mesothelioma -- a quick-acting cancer that is caused by embedded asbestos in the lungs.

Nonetheless, the vast number of unsick plaintiffs means that plaintiffs' lawyers need to aggregate the claims in order to benefit from bringing them. That leads to massive joinders in lawsuits of hundreds of claimants from numerous different areas (or even states) who were exposed to asbestos under differing circumstances all lumped into one lawsuit to bring pressure on defendants to settle. This is a practice frought with potential for corruption. And Mississippi, with its lack of procedural controls and a permissive Supreme Court had been one of the most favorable states for asbestos claims . . . until recent tort reforms.

Now the Mississippi Supreme Court (see link in title) has not only clamped down on massive joinders, but also on some of the plaintiff attorney tricks that prevent defendants from being able to investigate the plaintiffs' cases and challenge the joinders that seek to extract huge settlements. The pendulum swings back . . .

Hat tip: Point of Law and

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